The Internet of Things Chip Gets a New Spectrum

weightless

Last year we learned about Weightless, an Internet of Things chip that solves all the problems of current wireless solutions. It’s low power and has a 10-year battery life (one AA cell), the hardware should cost around $2 per module, and the range of the Weightless devices range from 5+km in urban environments to 20-30km in rural environments. There haven’t been many public announcements from the Weightless SIG since the specification was announced, but today they’re announcing Weightless will include an additional spectrum, the 868/915 MHz ISM spectrum.

The original plan for Weightless was to use the spectrum left behind by UHF TV – between 470 and 790MHz. Regulatory agencies haven’t been moving as fast as members of the Weightless SIG would have hoped, so now they’re working on a slightly different design that uses the already-allocated ISM bands. They’re not giving up on the TV whitespace spectrum; that’s still part of the plan to put radio modules in everything. The new Weightless-N will be available sooner, though, with the first publicly available base station, module, and SDK arriving sometime next spring.

Weightless has put up a video describing their new Weightless-N hardware; you can check that out below. If you want the TL;DR of how Weightless can claim such a long battery life and huge range from an Internet of Things radio module, here’s an overly simplified explanation: power, range, and bandwidth. Pick any two.

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Hackaday Munich Speaker: Sprite_TM

sprite_tm-munich-speaker

Plans for Hackaday Munich are coming along quite nicely. Today we’re happy to announce that [Sprite_TM] will be speaking at the event. Click that link above and make sure you get your tickets for November 13th. You can do some hands-on hacking at the Embedded Hardware Workshop, hear the talks, find out which of the five finalists will be the grand prize winner, and enjoy The Hackaday Prize Party along with the Hackaday crew.

You may also know [Sprite_TM] as [Jeroen Domburg], one of the judges for The Hackaday Prize. That’s him on the left in the image above (we love a good avatar!). If you follow Hackaday, you should already be thrilled about meeting him and hearing his talk. The last talk we remember reading about was an epic hard drive controller hack. Just last month we saw a well-executed clock radio overhaul from him. While we’re on the topic, his micro-bots were a spectacular project.

[Sprite_TM] has also offered to help out with the reverse engineering workshop. We’re hard at work making sure everything is in place for those afternoon hacking events. As we solidify details we’ll be adding workshop pages (and emailing those already registered for Hackaday Munich) to let everyone know what to expect. We can report that we have shipped [Sprite_TM] a Bus Pirate so that he can be familiar with it. This will be the primary tool provided for this particular workshop.

The entire Hackaday crew is looking forward to it. See you there!

Think Before You Measure – Old Test Gear and Why It Is Awesome

old-test-gear-banner

Good, workable test gear is key to enabling our hobby. In this post we will discuss where to procure it at rock-bottom prices, what to look for, how to fix it, and how to tailor your laboratory practices around gear that may not be reliable.

We are lucky to be living in an era with plentiful high-quality test gear. Since the Second World War, surplus test gear has been in abundance at low costs enabling hobbyists, innovators, and academics to experiment and build great things. If you are willing to think before you measure you can save serious amounts of money and have a professional laboratory in your home.

Where to buy
The obvious answer is eBay, but the deals on test equipment are at the hamfests. Don’t be fooled by the name. Hamfests sell much more than amateur radio equipment. Hamfests are swap meets where hobbyists trade electronics of all kinds. Check out the ARRL hamfest calendar to find the next local one near you! I suggest you arrive early, however. The culture of hamfests tends to favor showing up as soon as the doors open and leaving about two hours before the official end. The early bird gets the worm!

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A Single Pixel, Color Digital Camera

pixel

[Ben] has written all sorts of code and algorithms to filter, sort, and convolute images, and also a few gadgets that were meant to be photographed. One project that hasn’t added a notch to his soldering iron was a camera. The easiest way to go about resolving this problem would be to find some cardboard and duct tape and built a pinhole camera. [Ben] wanted a digital camera. Not any digital camera, but a color digital camera, and didn’t want to deal with pixel arrays or lenses. Impossible, you say? Not when you have a bunch of integral transforms in your tool belt.

[Ben] is only using a single light sensor that outputs RGB values for his camera – no lenses are found anywhere. If, however, you scan a scene multiple times with this sensor, each time blocking a portion of the sensor’s field of view, you could reconstruct a rudimentary, low-resolution image from just a single light sensor. If you scan and rotate this ‘blocking arm’ across the sensor’s field of view, reconstructing the image is called a Radon transform, something [Ben] has used a few times in his studies.

camera [Ben]‘s camera consists of the Adafruit RGB light sensor, an Arduino, a microSD card, a few servos, and a bunch of printed parts. The servos are used to scan and rotate the ‘blocking arm’ across the sensor for each image. The output of the sensor is saved to the SD card and moved over to the computer for post-processing.

After getting all the pixel data to his laptop, [Ben] plotted the raw data. The first few pictures were of a point source of light – a lamp in his workspace. This resulted in exactly what he expected, a wave-like line on an otherwise blank field. The resulting transformation kinda looked like the reference picture, but for better results, [Ben] turned his camera to more natural scenes. Pointing his single pixel camera out the window resulted in an image that looked like it was taken underwater, through a piece of glass smeared with Vaseline. Still, it worked remarkably well for a single pixel camera. Taking his camera to the great outdoors provided an even better reconstructed scene, due in no small part to the great landscapes [Ben] has access to.

Electric Bubblegum Board

Electric Bubblegum Boards

The Mini Maker Faire in Atlanta was packed with exciting builds and devices, but [Andrew's] Electric Bubblegum Boards stood out from the rest, winning the Editor’s Choice Award. His boards first emerged on Endless Sphere earlier this summer, with the goal of hitting all the usual e-skateboard offerings of speed, range, and weight while dramatically cutting the cost of materials.

At just over 12 pounds, the boards are lightweight and fairly compact, but have enough LiFePO4’s fitted to the bottom to carry a rider 10 miles on a single charge. A Wii Nunchuck controls throttle, cruise control, and a “boost” setting for bursts of speed. The best feature of this e-skateboard, however, is the use of 3D-printed parts. The ABS components not only help facilitate the prototyping process, but also permit a range of customization options. Riders can reprint parts as necessary, or if they want to just change things up.

[Andrew's] board is nearing the 11th hour over at his Kickstarter page, so swing by to see a production video made for potential backers, or stick around after the break for some quick progress and demo videos.

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High Altitude Balloon Keeps Going

Baloon

Here’s a post from the AMSAT-UK high altitude balloon blog. It’s a great story about a balloon cruising at about 12km above the Earth completing its sixth circumnavigation of the planet. That post is from October 4th, and two weeks later the balloon is still going strong. Right now it’s over the Baltic heading into Russia with no sign of stopping or popping any time soon.

globeThe balloon was launched July 12, 2014 from Silverstone, UK. In the 100 days since then, this balloon has covered 144168 kilometers and has crossed its launching longitude six times. Even if this balloon weren’t trapped at high latitudes (including coming within 9 km of the pole), this balloon has still travelled more than three times the equatorial circumference of the Earth.

The balloon was built by [Leo Bodnar] a.k.a. [M0XER] with a self-made plastic foil envelope. The solar-powered payload weighs only 11 grams. It’s an exceptional accomplishment and one that has smashed all the amateur high altitude balloon distance records we can find.

Shocking Idea: Prank Stun Baton

Stun Baton

[Christopher] has put together a Prank Stun Baton to annoy his friends. It delivers a slight shock to the person on the business end of the device. Oddly, it’s powered solely by static electricity, there is no battery here and the resulting injury is no worse than touching a door knob after scooting your socks around on some shag carpet.

The design is super simple and is effectively just a rudimentary capacitor. The main housing is a PVC pipe that acts as a dielectric in the ‘cap’ system. Two separate pieces of tin foil are wrapped around the inside and outside of the PVC pipe. These layers of tin foil provide a conductive path up to the a couple of screws stuck in the end of the baton. A ping-pong ball and some foam act as an insulator between the PVC and the screws.

To charge the baton it only has to be brought close to a source of static electricity, a tube TV will do the trick. Rubbing it with a piece of wool will also work. When this is done an electrostatic field is stored in the PVC between the two pieces of tin foil, one side takes on a positive charge and the other a negative charge creating an electric potential between the two screws at the end of the baton. When something (with a low-enough resistance) shorts the screws, the stored energy on the positive screw tries to go to the negative screw, shocking the unsuspecting victim.

Need something a little more powerful? You may want to check out this other stun baton.

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